Watch the Trailer for PAY 2 PLAY
PAY 2 PLAY follows filmmaker John Ennis’ quest to find a way out from under the Pay 2 Play System, where Politicians reward their donors with even larger sums from the public treasury -- through contracts, tax cuts, and deregulation. Along the way, he journeys through high drama on the Ohio campaign trail, uncovers the secret history of the game Monopoly, and explores the underworld of L.A. street art on a humorous odyssey that reveals how much of a difference one person can make. PAY 2 PLAY: Democracy’s High Stakes is the layman’s guidebook to taking back our democracy.
After traveling throughout Ohio making my election documentary FREE FOR ALL!, I came to realize that our elections aren’t just about which names get selected on a ballot — it’s how those names even got on the ballot. Where many inspiring and qualified newcomers run for office to bring needed change, the barriers to getting the chance to make your case are overwhelming: approval of party leaders and insiders, reaching thousands of constituents, and money, money, money. A candidate’s ability to fundraise is how they are measured as viable from the beginning. Every form of getting your message out costs more–printing, postage, airtime, travel, staff. Instead of sharing ideas and amassing votes, candidates become beholden to amass cash.
And it doesn’t end once you’re in office — it only kicks in. The need to raise the fortune required for your re-election is hanging over you every day, and business interests with greater money at stake will gladly help fund that campaign somehow.
In helping people look at this ethical dilemma elected officials face daily, I hope that our country will realize the need to change how we choose our leaders. It comes down to the choices the candidates have to make. And if we can make that process a more level playing field, not only do we encourage better suited public servants, we get better leaders who use their power to help the public, not the richest donors.
What is the Pay 2 Play System?
Director John Ennis looks upon our Monopoly-inspired system of government, and identifies how money in politics is the obstacle to any meaningful change. Studying the outlandish Coingate scandal in Ohio, Ennis grasps that the primary function of pay-to-play politics is to repay the donor with public money—way more money than donors put in.
While these experiences of party insiders and outsiders make access to office seem difficult, it only becomes more daunting when the Supreme Court decides in Citizens United vs. FEC in 2010 that corporations are allowed to spend unlimited amounts in elections. Ennis looks into the group Citizens United to see how such influence was won and how their deceptive election tactics work.
Ohio is not just the swing state of America, it is a reliable indicator of the nation’s political attitudes. This makes campaigning in Ohio as hard as any where, and more likely to produce the most profound of political parables. Our film includes episodes in Ohio’s recent political history that provide portraits of where our campaign process is failing us. From the outlandish corruption that breeds from campaign quid pro quo, to the compelling characters that could make a difference as public servants were it not for the staggeringly expensive obstacles.
The Secret History of Monopoly
The dream of the little guy making it big is the American Dream, exemplified by the board game Monopoly and the legend of its creator Charles Darrow. But as Ennis learns, the real story behind the creation of Monopoly not only epitomizes corporate greed and exploitation, it also reveals lessons that forecast our economic meltdown, as well as the implications of public domain versus corporate copyright.
While Ennis is wrestling with the implications of Monopoly on our society and the looting of public concerns by corporate interests, he becomes transfixed on the emerging appearance of a Monopoly Man being put up all around Los Angeles. After finally tracking down the elusive street artist Alec Monopoly, Ennis becomes intrigued by the outlaw world of street art as a means of social commentary and individual speech in a corporate environment, despite heavy police crackdowns on graffiti and vandalism.
Monopoly vs. Anti-Monopoly
Ralph Anspach, who proved in court the back history of Monopoly’s origins as The Landlord’s Game, shares with Ennis his experience going to the Supreme Court against Hasbro, who sought to suppress his board game about trust busting called Anti-Monopoly. His experience is contrasted with revelations about The Koch Brothers in 2010, billionaires whose political spending through front groups challenges the Supreme Court’s view of speech. Vignettes from the street artists that Ennis meets illustrate specific points about corporate personhood as a criminal alias and restrictions on speech that favor corporate use of public space.
Looking into the Pay 2 Play System, Ennis learns about The Powell Memo, a treatise written by Lawrence Powell in 1972 as a strategy to create the appearance of broad public support for a corporate agenda through think tanks, academic stooges, and anti-union laws. As Ennis is watching this agenda unfold in new anti-union laws in 2011 in Wisconsin and Ohio, he feels helpless to get the word out, so he turns to the exciting but dangerous underworld of street art as an effort at “ubiquity” of the message, as described in the Powell Memo.
Revelations from the Wisconsin protests lead to identifying a long running shadow organization known as ALEC, American Legislative Exchange Council, which writes corporate friendly legislation and brings it to lawmakers across the country. While the corporate money and legislative power of ALEC make them seem invincible, Ennis observes how the individual efforts of citizens brings the law-writing giant to its knees.
With all Ennis has learned about the Pay 2 Play System and the impact one person can make, he seeks to create a public spectacle that will help excite the returning Occupy movement, while convey the list of issues at play in the larger struggle to get big money out of our political system. A street artist friend helps Ennis realize his dream of a massive Monopoly board that surrounds an intersection for the May Day Marches, with the squares representing topics and issues touched on in the film. On this historic day, people come together across the globe to celebrate the power that people have, when they come together.